I am a huge pro wrestling fan, most notably of the Mexican lucha libre variety.
Of the many issues I have with WWE these days, perhaps none is greater than their revisionist history towards WCW, the promotion I grew up watching. If you were to watch the Triumph of the Will-style propaganda series known as The Monday Night War on the WWE Network, you’ll hear WWE tell you WCW only beat them for 80+ weeks because WCW stole guys that WWE made stars, Eric Bischoff got lucky with one idea that only worked because it used stars made by WWE, and they signed guys like Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, and Eddie Guerrero, who were the only three guys who made the undercard work and who cares about that because they were much better in WWE, amirite?! Even sadder is that many fans who watch it, most of whom never watched WCW and only watch WWE, believe that noise and don’t know that WCW almost won the war because they booked shows significantly better from 1995-1997 than WWE did. They had the greatest midcard/undercard of all time, and they used former WWE cast offs Lex Luger (who was a WCW cast off that WWE made worse upon signing), Scott Hall, and Kevin “WWE fucked me up so bad I was the lowest drawing champion in WWE history” Nash better than WWE ever did. This is also a good time to note that WWE ultimately over took WCW thanks to Steve Austin and Mick Foley; you know, two guys who had very hot runs in WCW and main evented several memorable matches. Hypocrisy; you gotta love it. And that’s just a few of the reasons. But perhaps no claim bothers me more than this one; the legendary “Macho Man” Randy Savage, upon joining WCW, was immediately over the hill and did nothing that even came close to match his greatness from his 1980s WWE run.
Not only is this wrong, it’s laughably wrong. I won’t claim that Savage’s WCW run was the stuff of CM Punk’s 2011 run or anything, but those who claim he was an over the hill buffoon in WCW are the kind of people who only watched his buddy cop bullshit with Hulk Hogan or that “corpsing? SEND FOR THE MAN!” video. In reality, Savage in WCW was awesome. His on again, off again issues with Ric Flair from 1995 through 1996 were wildly entertaining and were largely responsible for getting WCW business hot again before the nWo storyline took things to a whole other level. But even more successful was the feud Savage had in 1997, a feud that for my money was one of the five best storylines of 1997 (right there with Hart-Austin, the rise of Crow Sting, Misterio-Eddie, and the rise of Lex Luger as the most over man in America) and the best rivalry of Savage’s career to not involve Hulk Hogan. It may not have featured Savage at the peak of his in ring powers, but it does feature him at his most captivating as the arrogant, psychotic, and (because its Savage) intense antagonist going against a hungry veteran looking to make his mark during a time his career should’ve been winding down. It would eventually morph into a personal battle that involved the breaking of the fourth wall, wild brawls, the humiliation of one of the men’s wives, and that’s just scratching the surface. There’s so much to it that I couldn’t tell this story in one part. Thus tonight begins our journey (a three-part journey) through one of my favorite storylines in the history of wrestling and the last magna opus (that you don’t know about) from the Macho Man. I give you the tale of Randy Savage and the original People’s Champion, Diamond Dallas Page. Hit the music!
Chapter 1: The Pieces Fall into Place
If there was anything hotter in American wrestling than World Championship Wrestling heading in 1997…what am I saying, there was nothing hotter than WCW heading into 1997. Despite the ill fated Souled Out PPV and the nWo ballooning into a group too big for its own good, Eric Bischoff’s baby remained the place to be on Monday Nights, particularly because the nWo still remained hot despite its own shortcomings. But it was more than that. For one, WCW had just had their most successful Starrcade event in years, a show featuring several classics in the undercard and a highly anticipated (if not very good) main event between Hollywood Hogan and Roddy Piper. More importantly was how deep the talent pool was. The WCW undercard was full of some of the best wrestlers fans would ever see, with seemingly more showing up by the day. Meanwhile main eventers like Ric Flair remained strong, Lex Luger had shaken off memories of his failed WWE run to become one of the hottest commodities in the business and, though it was still in the formative stages, a storyline focused on Sting was slowly turning into one of the most captivating storylines ever. For the love of Grodd even Disco Inferno was popular during this time! Everything WCW did turned to liquid gold, which made it the perfect time for something big to happen to both Diamond Dallas Page and Randy Savage. Thus it’s no coincidence that the paths that would lead them to each other took form at exactly the same time.
Everyone by now knows the awesome story of DDP, who started wrestling so late (35 years old) only to overcome it and become a well known, highly respected performer. What many don’t know is that it took him a long, LONG ass time to even get close to the position of becoming a star. From 1991 to the spring of 1996, DDP was at best a midcarder who feuded with the likes of David Sullivan, the immortal Johnny B. Badd and the infamous Booty Man, with most of the storylines being over his opponent trying to win the heart of the Diamond Doll (Page’s wife Kimberly) away from him. Riveting stuff. It was only after DDP lost the Diamond Doll did things start to take off, thanks to winning the 1996 Battle Bowl at Slamboree and a new finisher called the Diamond Cutter. You may have heard of it! The Battle Bowl victory gave Page a big win he had been sorely lacking (even if he was never allowed to cash in the WCW Heavyweight Title shot he earned) and the Diamond Cutter was so cool that you couldn’t help but be interested in Page, if only because it was an opportunity to see him hit that sweet move on some poor soul. Thus DDP finally got some momentum and as a result became a minor piece in the nWo storyline. That was actually more luck than anything else; prior to gaining success in WWE and WCW, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash had both started out as pals of DDP back when they were Vinnie Vega and the Diamond Studd respectively. The onscreen friendship developed into a real life one and, as such, it made perfect sense for Hall and Nash to approach DDP about joining the nWo in late 1996, making DDP the only man in history that could sit there and say “it really was a good thing Vinnie Vega and the Diamond Studd existed!”
There was a twist to Nash and Hall’s courtship of DDP however; the latter wasn’t exactly jumping at the bits to join the nWo, partially because DDP worked better as a lone wolf and partially because Hall and Nash approached him far later in the nWo’s run instead of inviting him at the start. Much like Xander Harris, Hall and Nash didn’t take too well to rejection and decided to teach DDP a lesson, screwing him out of winning a United States Championship match against Eddy Guerrero at Starrcade 96. The incident served to both teach DDP a lesson and serve as a recruiting tool; he could either reject the nWo and expect more interference in his career, or he could join and reap the benefits of being a cog in wrestling’s hottest machine. Which way would DDP go? The question was answered on the January 13th episode of Nitro after Page defeated Mark Starr in the most memorable moment of Starr’s career (needless to say, Mark Starr’s career wasn’t very good!). Hall and Nash made their way down to the ring with an nWo shirt and, to the delight of Eric Bischoff and Ted Dibiase at the commentary booth, Page put on the shirt and for all intents and purposes seemed to join the nWo. As Lee Corso would say however, NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND!
Every great worker in the wrestling industry has a moment we all look back on and say “that’s where it all started.” For Page, that moment was when he pulled Scott Hall back in and sent him crashing to the floor with a Diamond Cutter. The New Orleans Superdome (oh yeah, did I mention this Nitro took place in the Superdome?! Remember when regular Monday Night shows took place in huge stadiums?) came completely unglued. Nash, startled by the noise looked like…well I’m not sure what he looked like because his back was turned but I assume it was a mixture of “HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?!” and that face the rage quit guy makes. He charged, DDP ducked and Nash crashed to the floor to even more cheers. Before Bischoff and Dibiase could even fully rage quit themselves, DDP was making his way to the crowd, the biggest hero New Orleans had seen since the Junkyard Dog. Not just because he had got one over the nWo (although, if we’re being real, that was no small feat considering how little WCW had gotten against them at this point) and not just because DDP chose the hard way over the easy way; no, the genius of it all was that DDP was the first guy presented with the opportunity to join the nWo who looked them in the eye and said “fuck you, what you gonna do about it?” It instantly made him one of the bigger heroes WCW’s side, and WCW spent the next few weeks building more momentum for Page by having him Diamond Cutter everything nWo related in sight. Hell he may have even Diamond Cutter’d an nWo shirt during this time; I couldn’t find any footage of that but it wouldn’t stun me.
It was just a week after DDP made the leap that the “Macho Man” Randy Savage made his return to WCW after a three month hiatus. Many know that Savage dropped off WCW radar after he and Hollywood Hogan tried to relive the glory days at Halloween Havoc 96; what many don’t know is that it may have been the end of Savage’s WCW run. Around the same time he and Hogan were making a mockery of their infamous “MEGA POWERS EXPLODE” story, Savage’s contract was also running its course. A deal couldn’t be reached and as such, Savage disappeared to, as his old WCW home video would say, consider his future. And yes, one of the future’s he considered involved him returning to WWE, supposedly a place he was unwelcome to at the time. Evidence suggests Savage was expecting for there to be a huge bidding war for him between WWE and WCW and at one point there was apparently a plan for WWE to steal both Savage and Hogan away to continue their feud in WWE. In the end Hogan signed back with WCW before Savage’s contract ran out, and WWE’s offer was so unimpressive that Savage ended up returning to WCW for more dates and less money than he wanted. If Savage was unmotivated though he didn’t show it, instantly diving into a storyline that saw Bischoff, both nWo and WCW ruler for those not keeping score, blackball him from competing in WCW. Savage reacted as only you’d expect; he stayed in the ring and beat up anyone who came near him. At least he did until Sting arrived. After Sting did his usual test of loyalty (shoves guy with bat, drops bat, sees if guy takes a swing at him), Savage and Sting reached an understanding and left through the United Center crowd together.
It would only take two weeks before DDP and Savage’s angles would interact, as Savage and Sting were both seen in the crowd watching Page decimate the Renegade while Hall and Nash looked on from the entrance ramp with steel pipes. The scene asked a simple question; were Sting and Savage there to help Page in case The Outsiders attacked, or were they there to gang attack DDP with Hall and Nash? A week later WCW set out to answer that question, as Page came down to the ring and declared he was tired of running from the nWo, Sting, Savage, whoever; if something were to happen, it might as well happen now. On cue, Sting and Savage came to the ring with a ball bat in toe and proceeded to do Sting’s trademark loyalty test. Two things could be taken away from this segment. First, despite showing fear, DDP stood his ground and didn’t run from Savage and Sting, something that did not go unnoticed by the Jacksonville crowd and served as yet another moment that solidified Page’s standing as a face. Secondly, after the loyalty test, Sting exited the ring rather quickly; Savage however did not, lingering behind to stare down Page and snag the bat out of his hands. Whether or not it was foreshadowing or just something Savage did on the fly, the moment proved to be the first sign that something bigger was going to happen between the two down the road.
Chapter 2: Savage’s Turn and Uncensored 1997
Less than two weeks after the altercation between Savage and Page, Savage turned on WCW and joined the nWo by assisting Hollywood Hogan retain the WCW Heavyweight Championship against Roddy Piper at SuperBrawl VII. Savage’s reasoning was that he had no choice, as joining the nWo served as his only chance of being able to wrestle in WCW again (though there is some reason to suggest Savage joining the group was made on the fly). Instead of being portrayed as a reluctant member however, Savage appeared to relish joining the group and rang in his first night as a member by attacking DDP after the latter defeated Dave Taylor, spray painting him and nailing his trademark elbow drop. Hilariously Savage’s attempt to spray paint nWo on Page looked more like a bunch of black lines but hey, not everyone can be Rembrandt from The Warriors, right? In any event Page, in yet another important moment in his push, came back the next week unphased, defeating Ron Fuller after turning a Fuller scoop slam attempt into a Diamond Cutter (remember this). In an interview with Mean Gene Okerlund after the match, Page simply told Savage to snap into this, making it clear that he would not forgive nor forget Savage’s attack. Over the next two weeks, the story morphed into Page repeatedly challenging Savage to bring it and Savage acting like Page was a nobody during the many group nWo segments. Something had to give…and oh boy did it ever at Uncensored 1997.
During the middle of the show, DDP (who was not booked in a match) made an appearance for yet another Mean Gene interview, once again lambasting Savage for ignoring him. Only this time Savage decided to not ignore him, appearing in the crowd with his ex-wife Miss Elizabeth, who was once again working as Savage’s manager. In what quickly turned into a work shoot, Savage exposed the fact that Page was married to the Diamond Doll Kimberly by showing Kimberly’s Playboy centerfold to the crowd (with the nWo logo covering up certain parts of the photo if you get the drift). That would’ve been enough to make this one hell of a shindig…except Savage never does anything less than batshit insane, as a distraught Kimberly emerged from the back to reveal that Savage and Elizabeth had attacked her and spray painted her all over with the nWo logo. An understandably concerned DDP was distracted by this, allowing Savage to attack from behind and level a full scale beat down on Page. Savage was at one point even going to Piledrive Page on the stage till Kimberly intervened, which simply led to Savage spray painting Page instead while Elizabeth spray painted Kimberly. It was the best angle of the entire show…for about an hour until Sting revealed his true colors but still. Man was Uncensored 1997 great or what?!
It should be pointed out that WCW didn’t need to run an angle like this. A DDP-Savage feud built around the legendary Savage dismissing Page, only for the latter to prove himself, would’ve been an interesting story in its own right, provided WCW handled it properly. But holy hell did this angle give Page-Savage some definite juice. Not only did it keep the "arrogant veteran vs. the ready to prove himself challenger" thread intact, but it made things so much more personal by having Savage humiliate Page’s wife. It was one thing for DDP to just be the target; to have the love of his life brought into it all however was a bridge too far. Page essayed that beautifully the very next night when he quickly disposed of Max Muscle, ironically a former ally of DDP back in his heel days. Yet another Mean Gene interview followed, with Page rage quitting like never before and declaring Savage to be a “dead man walking.” Like the previous night Savage and Elizabeth interrupted again from the crowd to taunt Page; unlike the previous night Page was determined not to have Savage get the better of him, demanding Savage face him now. When Savage refused, DDP sprinted into the crowd and before you knew it Savage and Elizabeth were out of there faster than Speed Racer at the Gran Prix. The fans exploded, WCW execs surely danced around as if they were Alex Wright; the only thing left to wonder was how soon could Spring Stampede arrive?
Chapter Three: I Think I Wanna Take the Diamond Cutter
The answer to that chapter ending question was two weeks, which left WCW with two episodes of Nitro to build more momentum for Page-Savage. The first week saw Page cost Randy Savage the TV title by interfering in his match against Prince Iaukea; unfortunately for Page there was 9,000 nWo guys at ringside when this happened and the show ended with DDP eating a Jackknife Powerbomb, a Savage Elbow Drop, more spray paint and even an Eric Bischoff kick. You know things are going bad when Bischoff is even getting shots in. In a continuation of everything else going back to his initial defiance against the nWo however, Page shrugged it off. He didn’t care how many beatings it took; all he cared about was wiping Savage off the face of the earth, and he’d go through beating after beating just to do that. Next week proved that for sure when Page, after making short work of future Sick Boy Lance Ringo, raked Savage over the coals in yet another Mean Gene interview. He proclaimed himself proud of Kimberly’s accomplishments with Playboy, said Savage had messed with his world and repeatedly referred to Elizabeth as a bimbo, which sent Savage into rage quit mode when he and Elizabeth made their annual appearance from the crowd. It was a strong final segment leading into Spring Stampede, and with no Hollywood Hogan appearance on the card, it set the stage for DDP-Savage to be the first main event in DDP’s career.
Of course, everyone and their brother thought that was as good as it was going to get for DDP. After all, this wasn’t just the nWo; this was the “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Those guys hardly lost to the regular main eventers, let alone a journeyman like Page. Little did everyone know that WCW was planning one of the bigger upsets in recent memory. As was custom then (and still is now), Savage and him had been working the house show circuit together in preparation for their match. One such occasion was March 15th in Florence, South Carolina, just a day before they were to run the huge angle at Uncensored (the Page-Savage match was already planned for Spring Stampede at this point). As they went over the match in the locker room, Arn Anderson (who was the agent for the match) asked Savage what he wanted the finish to be. In a moment that Page has recounted many times since, Savage looked up at Anderson while putting his boots on and, in a moment that floored both Page and Anderson, nonchalantly stated “I think I want to take the Diamond Cutter” before returning to lacing his boots. And so Savage did indeed take the Diamond Cutter, with Page picking up a victory that left Florence as stunned as poor Anderson was in the back. And if that wasn’t enough, Page also recounted years later that, as he and Savage lay on the mat, he was unable to make out the crowd because he was too busy listening to Savage say “Well, I guess we know what we’re doing at Spring Stampede.” Thank Grodd Anderson wasn’t there to hear that; he may have doubled over and left this mortal coil judging from his earlier reaction.
If that sort of thing had happened today in the social media era, the Dave Meltzer’s of the world would’ve picked up on what happened and everyone would be speculating on whether DDP had a shot. As that was not the case however, people were still giving DDP no chance in hell as Spring Stampede hit the Pay Per View airwaves. Finally after a few hours of decent wrestling and one hilarious Booker T promo botch (the infamous “WE COMIN FOR YOU!” line), we got two emotional promos by Page and Kimberly (accompanying Page to the ringside) and got what I dare say was one of the better WCW main events of recent memory. It was not a match that reinvented the wheel but it was, much like a Mew using Psychic, super effective in telling its story; a heated brawl between two men who hated each other’s guts, with the more experienced of the two keeping firm control while the other kept getting up no matter what. Page’s fighting spirit took a toll on Savage and, more importantly, Savage’s sanity, leading to the Macho Man taking out his frustrations on everyone from Page to Kimberly to referee Mark Curtis to ring announcer. Amazingly Savage also found time to pay tribute to the ring bell spot from his Ricky Steamboat feud (only for Kimberly to snag the bell before he could use it). The beat down of Curtis (who Savage destroyed with one of the most diabolical Piledrivers of all time) cost Savage dearly as there was no one to count a pin after yet another gorgeous Savage elbow drop. Corrupt nWo referee Nick Patrick came to the ring and Savage set up to hit Page with a scoop slam as a prelude to another elbow…only just like he did with Ron Fuller over a month ago, Page floated over, landed behind Savage and hit a righteous Diamond Cutter as the building exploded. After a moment Page rolled Savage over for a one armed cover and Patrick, with no other choice, counted down the one, two, and three. And all was right in the world.
Other stuff happened in the post match, such as Nash nearly powerbombing Patrick through the ring, the crowd begging for Sting (and not getting him), Savage trying to attack Kimberly and ultimately settling to attack Bischoff when the nWo nearly imploded onto itself. But no amount of post match shenanigan could distract from the biggest story of them all; DDP, Diamond Dallas Page, a man who not even six months ago had been just another midcarder, had just cleanly beaten the “Macho Man” Randy Savage in a great main event of a WCW Pay Per View. He had not only overcome one of the greatest legends in wrestling history but had defended the honor of himself and his wife en route to the most satisfying victory from WCW’s end since Lex Luger beat The Giant at Starrcade to give WCW its first win of the war. But there was still work to be done. Savage’s near attack on Kimberly after the match would not be something Page would soon forget, and the Spring Stampede brawl between Page and Savage would merely be the first in many battles the two would have over 1997. But as they say, that’s for the next column.